Voters in the Fort Zumwalt School District will be asked to approve two ballot items this April to help the district recoup lost revenues from the recession and maintain its current facilities and staff.
First up is Proposition A, a $25 million no-tax-increase bond issue that will be used to complete ongoing repairs, renovation and improvements throughout the district. The bond issue also will cover a lighting upgrade for all district buildings.
The second item is Proposition B, a 48-cent tax levy increase that will generate about $9 million for the school district.
The bond issue will help the district make major roof repairs, parking lot repairs and overlays. It also will help to provide technology upgrades, painting, new floors and ceilings in several buildings, HVAC repairs and replacements, as well as lighting upgrades and replacements.
Originally intended to be $21 million, the bond issue was increased to $25 million to accommodate the addition of an Early Childhood Center. District Superintendent Dr. Bernie DuBray said the long-range plan is to offer an early childhood education program for 600-800 students of all abilities across the spectrum.
In the past, the district has utilized United Services for its preschool due to a lack of space for the 600-plus preschool children who attend its current program.
For the 2015-16 school year, a pilot program is planned that would include a select number of children with disabilities and those without, between the ages of 3 and 5. School officials hope the pilot program will help guide the district’s future Early Childhood Education programming.
If the proposition is passed on April 7 the adjusted debt service levy of the school district will remain unchanged at the current rate of $0.69 per $100 assessed valuation of real and personal property.
The district is currently projecting a $2.9 million operating deficit for its 2014-15 budget.
DuBray said the funds generated from the tax levy increase will be used to eliminate that deficit, hire more specialty teachers, add more technology for one-to-one initiatives, address class size, improve curriculum and programming, and improve salaries for all staff. Specialty teachers would include 16 technology teachers for all elementary schools.
“The deficit has come about by a shortfall in revenue and trying to keep up with other county districts that are better funded,” said DuBray. “The levy will eliminate the deficit and allow us to provide for the needs of our students and staff with a balanced budget.”
Of the $9 million that could potentially be raised by Prop B, DuBray said, “That is close to what was lost with the recession. We dropped a little over $180 million in assessed valuation beginning in 2009. We also have received less than was expected from the state because of underfunding of the Foundation Formula.”
The Foundation Formula is the mathematical equation used to allocate state funds among the state’s 524 public school districts.
If the levy increase does not pass, DuBray said class sizes will get worse by reducing all categories of staff through attrition.
“We will not be able to implement programs that other districts are experiencing much student success with, and our student achievement will slide further than what it has already,” DuBray said. “Other programs would include technology teachers, one-to-one technology initiatives, instructional coaches and further expansion of Project Lead the Way programming.”
The district has kept up to this point by deficit spending, DuBray said.
“That can only work as long as the district has reserve funds to do so. Once you are at the point of concern for your reserves, you have to ‘draw the line’ and cut back on spending somewhere to balance the budget,” said DuBray. “We are very close to that point. We project to have 16 percent in operating fund reserves on June 30. If our reserves fall to 12-15 percent in this fund we will be very concerned.”
This the district’s first tax levy increase since 2004.
“We experienced some good years until the 2008 recession. At that point we experienced drops in state funding and our local tax base. We have lived on our savings for the most part since that time. We’ve got to get more resources for this school district,” DuBray said. “We are very concerned.”